In the world of blogging, and increasingly on other sites with dynamic content, a mechanism has been developed to allow a person to review all or part of a site without actually logging into it. Article headlines and content is delivered via a ‘Syndicated Feed‘ to a news aggregator which, as the name implies, collects the feeds and displays them in an easy to review fashion. I’ve been looking for a good aggregator for a while, but haven’t found anything I liked… until now.
For me, a tool that doesn’t require a major paradigm shift in my work habits is a huge win. Many of the aggregators are standalone packages that are Yet Another Tool I Need To Start. And with that strike against them, unless the tool is gods gift to the world, chances are I won’t use it.
Sage is a news aggregator that functions as a Firefox extension. It integrates with Firefox quite nicely, simply using bookmarks as the index for storing feeds.
Setting up Sage was quite easy – just a matter of going to the Sage home page and selecting ‘install’. The extension was installed, and needed to be configured. Configuration was a matter of selecting what folder to use for the feed bookmarks, and then populating that folder with feeds.
Sage supports both Atom and RSS (1.0 and 2.0) feed formats, so there hasn’t been a site format I haven’t been able to find. Generally the trick is finding where the site has hidden their feed, as they don’t always show the ‘xml’ logo or a feed link on the main page. Most sites use [sitename]/index.rdf as the default RSS feed url, and [sitename]/atom.xml as the Atom feed, so you can sort of dig it out. If there is a link to the feed URL, right clicking on that, selecting ‘Bookmark this link’ and making sure it goes into my ‘RSS Feeds’ folder is all thats needed.
After installation, you can activate Sage by typing ‘alt-s’. This displays the Bookmarks sidebar with the Sage RSS feeds displayed. The folder displays which feeds have been updated in the last 24 hours or so by marking the document icon with a ‘*’. If you’d like to update immediately, clicking on the ‘ChecK Feeds’ button will cause Sage to go to the individual sites and check for updates to the feeds.
To display the actual content from the site, simply click on the feed entry in the toolbar. Sage will query the site and get the latest update. Article headers are displayed in the lower left pane, and a formatted ‘newspaper’ style summary is displayed in the main window. This summary includes links to the articles themselves, so if you’d like to read the entire article, it’s just one click away.
Look and Feel
The CSS used to render the main page is fully customizable, so if you don’t like how Sage is laying out your ‘newspaper’ page, you can alter it to suit your particular view. I’ve found the default layout to be acceptable, though I’ll probably dig in and make some changes soon. The double-column layout takes a little getting used to, but for the most part it’s quite pleasant.
I’m particularly pleased that the Sage authors chose to work as closely with existing Firefox structures as possible. Firefoxs’ bookmarks editor is one of the best around, and since Sage simply uses that for the listing of feeds, it’s very easy to maintain and update.
This is the first time I’ve used an aggregator and found myself -continuing- to use it. It’s tight integration into Firefox and fairly faultless functionality has been great. I’ve had very few problems with it, and continue to keep it active (it’s visible as I write this, so there ya go :).
I’ve had very few quirks – one is the ‘check feeds’ button seems to check -every- bookmark I have, rather than just the folder I’ve marked as my feeds folder (I’ve gotten around this by right-clicking on the RSS, and selecting ‘Check feeds’). A little annoying. I might also like to have more information in the ‘active’ icons rather than just “There’s been an update” – perhaps a date of last update? And of course, there’s the ubiquitous ‘I wish I could read my Livejournal Friends postings’. But these are minor quibbles. For now, I’m gonna keep using it.